If you are more of a “doer” hands-on person, the type who discards any assembly instructions (without reading them) from your kids’ Christmas presents, then here is a challenging yet fun option on how to be a better angler. It isn’t reading articles or books, nor is it watching television shows. This option gets you on the water.
What is it? Tournament fishing. You WILL become a better angler, but there is good news and bad news. It will cost time and money—but you will have a blast. After just a few short years, you will discover that tournament fishing—at more than just a local level—will make you a better fisherman.
- New waters: Being forced to fish new waters will make a huge difference–asking questions, talking to other anglers, and really digging into new topography means no more memory fishing. You’ll be making brand new memories.
- Pushed outside your comfort zone: If you are comfortable with Great Lakes fishing, you will have to fish rivers. If you are a river rat, tournaments will push you to big water. No matter how you slice it, most tournament circuits mix it up when they build their season. That is a big benefit to you, as you dial-in on new techniques that fit the different bodies of water in your season.
- Travel—even to new states: If you fish a tournament circuit that doesn’t mix up rivers and lakes, at least the new locations will push your geographic boundaries. That changes regulations, too. With new zip codes, you will see sites and experience new techniques. Let’s face it, the folks in Michigan do things just a little differently than the folks in Minnesota; same for Florida and Louisiana. It is great to experience a whole new way of doing things. River fishing on the Mississippi River, the Detroit River, and the Niagara River are all different from one another!
- Meet great people: You’ll meet new people, people who have Obsessive Compulsive Fishing Disorder just like you. Part of the fun of tournament fishing is making great friendships that can last a lifetime. It can get competitive, but if you’re tournament fishing to build your skill set and not to feed your family at home or make a mortgage payment, you can keep it fun and not too cutthroat.
- Boat control and movement of fish: When I ran the Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC) we joked the acronym meant “Miserable Weather Conditions.” But hey, that’s tournament fishing! If you are a fair-weather angler, tournament days force you out when you might not otherwise go. Those changing weather patterns expand your knowledge about boat control and movement of fish, things that don’t always apply if you’re a fair-weather angler.
Meet Matt Davis of Marion, Ohio. A solid Great Lakes angler, Matt found that fishing the MWC made him a far better angler. The MWC is a team format circuit and Matt teamed up with Dan Gies. “Those first few years when the schedule moved to rivers, Dan and I took a whipping because we just didn’t have the experience on them,” shared Matt. “But it forced us to figure them out so that we didn’t lose out on points and position for Team of the Year. We had to get better.”
Matt and Dan won the Team of the Year title in the circuit in 2009 and the elite-field Championship the following fall. They couldn’t have done it without the skills they learned being pushed to new waters in the earlier part of the decade. “We don’t make our living fishing, but we enjoy the team of guys that we fish with and the time that this gives us on the water,” continued Matt. “I strongly recommend tournament fishing if you want to improve your skills.”
If you’re not ready for the “pro” spot in the boat or even team-format tournaments, then consider becoming a co-angler in a pro-co format tournament circuit. Even if you are feeling close to ready and you have the right equipment, a year or two as a co-angler will show you how the pros work.
Champions will always share their how-to information. Being part of the roster is a great way to meet great anglers and develop friendships. Matt and Dan would gladly visit with a river rat who sincerely asked: “So how does it work up on Lake Erie?” Just be sure to listen to the answer.
K.J. Houtman is author of the award-winning Fish On Kids Books series, chapter books for 8-12 year olds with adventures based around fishing, camping, and hunting. Her work is available at Amazon and local bookstores. Find out more at fishonkidsbooks.com.